Three of four Taiwanese fishing boats on their way to Taiwan-held Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) in the South China Sea were scheduled to reach the island’s shores last night, a spokesman for the group of fishing boats said earlier in the day.
The fourth boat, which was carrying three reporters from Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television, was to drop anchor in waters off the island, said Lo Chiang-fei (羅強飛), who acts as a spokesman for the fishermen.
The fishing boats left Taiwan on Wednesday last week to assert that Itu Aba is an island under international law and reaffirm their fishing rights in the South China Sea in response to a July 12 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, the Netherlands.
In a case brought by the Philippines against China, the court said all high-tide features in the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島), including Itu Aba Island, are legally “rocks” rather than islands and therefore not entitled to 200 nautical mile (370km) exclusive economic zones.
Although Taiwan was not a party to the case and has said it would not be bound by the ruling, other nations in the region could use it to limit where Taiwanese fishermen can operate.
As of 11:14am yesterday, the fishing boat fleet was 53 nautical miles from Taiping, which lies 864 nautical miles from Kaohsiung, Lo said.
By press time last night, there was no update on the boats’ position.
They did not anticipate any trouble landing on Itu Aba, even though it is categorized as a military-controlled zone into which fishermen are prohibited from entering without authorization from the Ministry of National Defense, the spokesman said.
Lo said the fishermen would ask Coast Guard Administration personnel stationed on the island to provide assistance on the grounds that they are in need of emergency shelter and have to replenish their supplies there.
Regarding the three TV reporters who joined the group, Lo said that while they had crew permits to board the ships, the boat carrying them would stop short of the island to prevent their presence from becoming a distraction.
Amid questions that the three reporters might have received financial support from China to participate, Lo said it was an activity conducted purely by civilians without the support of political parties or groups.
Lo said that reporters from several media outlets expressed interest in covering the trip, but only those with crew boarding permits were allowed to participate.
He said the group did not favor the Hong Kong-based TV station over other media outlets and reiterated that it did not have any political affiliation.
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